If you travel regularly, chances are you’ve been stuck in a long, slow-moving line at a rental car agency. With all that time on your hands, you may have witnessed a distressing sight: Happy-looking customers breezing right past all you regular folks to get their rental cars right away.
A number of credit cards — possibly one in your wallet — come with elite benefits at select rental car companies. But to take advantage of the perks, which often include skip-the-line privileges, discounts and accelerated points earning, you need to sign up for the rental car company’s rewards program — and take some steps with the credit card company, too.
Here are some cards that offer free elite benefits with select rental car companies.
» Learn more: The cheapest way to rent a car: 9 tips
World Elite Mastercard
Do you have a Mastercard? Look at it closely, front and back. If you see the words “World Elite,” you have an in with car rental agencies National and Sixt.
At National, your World Elite Mastercard earns you “Emerald Aisle” privileges in National’s Emerald Club loyalty program. With this benefit, anytime you reserve a mid-size car in the U.S. or Canada, you can walk right past the desk, straight to the cars, pick one out and drive away. The keys are already in the ignition. From there, you’ll enjoy Emerald Checkout: an app you download that allows you to scan the QR code on your chosen car and drive straight to the exit booth.
You’ll also get up to 25% off National car rentals in the U.S. and Canada, vehicle upgrades and priority service.
To enjoy these benefits at National, you have to register your eligible card with Mastercard’s Travel & Lifestyle Services by visiting travel.mastercard.com or calling (855) 802-1387.
With the Sixt limousine and car rental service, Mastercard World Elite members get discounts up to 20%, along with elite upgrades and amenities after signing up with Mastercard’s Travel & Lifestyle Services.
World Elite Mastercard holders also get rewarded at Avis, with up to 25% off rental cars and complimentary upgrades when available.
Credit cards automatically offering these benefits include the AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard®, the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard® and the Hawaiian Airlines® World Elite Mastercard®.
» Learn more: Mastercard adds benefits to World and World Elite Cards
At National, you’ll get complimentary Executive-level membership in the Emerald Club rewards program, plus special discounts when you use your qualifying Visa card.
At Avis, Chase Sapphire Reserve® cardholders get special privileges, including Avis Preferred Plus elite membership. Preferred Plus members are eligible to upgrades based on availability, a dedicated customer service line and 25 - 50% more points for every $1 spent with Avis.
Silvercar, too, offers customers who have a Visa Infinite card like the Chase Sapphire Reserve® opportunities for discounts and privileges. But in every case, you have to enroll first. Log in to your Ultimate Rewards account, then go to the Travel Benefits page where you’ll see the Special Car Rental Privileges page. Then follow the links to enroll in any or all of the rental car programs.
United Club℠ Infinite Card and United MileagePlus Presidential Plus card
Have one of these cards in your wallet? Then you’re automatically qualified for President’s Circle Status in the Hertz car rental company’s rewards program, Hertz Gold Plus Rewards. At this elite status level, upgrades are guaranteed. Points earnings are accelerated, too. Unlike regular Gold level members who earn 1 point per $1 spent on Hertz rentals, President’s Circle members earn 1.5 points per $1.
As a Hertz President’s Circle member, you’ll get use of a dedicated rewards line and the chance to transfer Hertz points to travel partner programs. You’ll also get four months’ free membership in a program called Hertz Fast Lane powered by Clear, which gets you on your way even faster using biometrics as your identification.
» Learn more: United MileagePlus Club Card review
The Platinum Card® from American Express
If you have The Platinum Card® from American Express, you can get elevated privileges with National, Hertz and Avis. That means upgrades, discounts and more. Sign in to your American Express account to register for these perks.
What if I don't have or want one of these cards?
In many cases, you need not carry a credit card to skip the long line — simply signing up for a car rental loyalty program will let you do so. (In such cases, you'll often head to a shorter line for rewards members.) Such programs include Alamo, Avis, Dollar, Hertz and Thrifty.
How to Maximize Your Rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2021, including those best for:
Airline miles and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card
Flat-rate rewards with no annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Premium travel rewards: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card
Planning a trip? Check out these articles for more inspiration and advice: Find the best travel credit card for you Top perks of The Platinum Card® from American Express Declining rental car insurance abroad? Know the risks